To follow up on the past 3 posts about Somalia (1.0, 1.5, 1.75), I’ll return to a project I worked on four years back. With Dr. Jacob Shapiro and a group of really solid researchers, I got to co-edit and co-write sections of al Qaeda’s (Mis) Adventures in the Horn of Africa. We based the research on declassified, al-Qaeda (AQ) documents found in Afghanistan detailing AQ’s forays into Somalia between 1992-1994.
AQ sent several teams of trainers to join Somali clans. Through Special Forces-type methods, AQ envoys would provide training and equipment to Somali clans. During this process, they would also begin proselytizing hoping their ideology would catch on. In Somalia, AQ struggled for three reasons.
1- Weak states support terrorism better than failed states– As Dr. Ken Menkhaus has noted many times, failed states like Somalia are hard for everyone. It doesn’t matter if your AQ or Western peacekeepers. The cost of operating in chaos makes terrorism tough.
2- Clan trumps AQ– AQ’s Somalia documents describe continuous clan fighting. AQ operatives were focused on training Somalis to fight foreign occupiers. Somali clan members were more interested in the near enemy than the far enemy. The Somalis trained by AQ chose to use their new skills more for settling clan rivalries than attacking UN peacekeepers. AQ also didn’t like how the Somali Shura Council was democratic in their decision-making. AQ described the situation with the Somali Islamic Union as “Leave it, it is rotten tribalism.” AFGP-2002-800640. The latest Foreign Policy article suggests the same “clan fighting” dynamics persist today in Somalia.
3- AQ’s ideology didn’t stick– AQ’s ideology couldn’t compete with Somali clan customs. Often times, Salafi ideology lost out to local versions of Sufi Islam. AQ calls the Sufis “Big Hairs”. One document provides a funny story about the Sufi’s and Salafi’s arguing over a Toyota truck. AFGP-2002-600104
4- AQ found success in two ways in Somalia (despite persistent clan disasters)-
a. Providing security in local areas– When AQ provided local security to villages, they could win the respect of local clans allowing for the proselytizing of their ideology. (Reminiscent of The Management of Savagery by Abu Bakr Naji) AQ explained:
“When our brothers were in the Kambooni, they were visited by the Bajuni who asked them to stay and govern, and secure the city. They have noticed that the presence of the brothers prevented the highwaymen from entering the city, and the fishermen began coming to the shore to spend the night in the city. They told our people that they do not want them to leave. They await the arrival of our wives and children. They freely gave fish to our people, and our people guarded the well while reading the Koran, and helped the fishermen get water.” AFGP-2002-600113
Later, Ras Kambooni became a hub for al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI) activity.
b. Attracting youth through propaganda–
AQ found success attracting young recruits away from the tribes. Somali youth had lower opportunity costs for joining AQ-affiliated groups than elder clan members. Somali youth didn’t own businesses, were unmarried, loved stories of jihad, were less educated, and were far down in the clan pecking order. The “youth” would undertake military action and listen to indoctrination. Here are some interesting AQ quotes reference youth in Somalia. (These are quotes from the translations, so they are a bit messy)
“The Majertain youth that joined our people are keeping away from the tribal ideology and are fighting in the name of God. Sheikh Hassan started to teach these young men (our dogma). From the political side, contacts were made with “Jihad” (Iskandari Union) supporters to join with us. Procedures were established to deal with the Ogaden tribe, particularly with those who are secular and highwaymen. As a result of this, our brethren earned the respect of the tribes, some of whose members want to join ranks with us. The situation we are experiencing right now is very hard to continue the jihad work in collective way but it is possible to continue with some youth groups that accomplish some operations.” AFGP-2002-800600
“but the youth that established the camps and lived in them, don’t see that the jihad is tied up with anything and most of those youth don’t think about establishing individual businesses.” AFGP-2002-800600
“Going back to the youth, they have a common characteristic which is the hastiness, and that superficial look toward things” AFGP-2002-800600
“the youth started their action in kees mayo city (Kismayo) in southern Somalia by getting engaged in its battle and the tribes men escaped before Aideed. There was 800 brothers in their camps and the escapees asked the youth to protect the city from Aideed provided that they would give up the airport, the harbor and the public utilities in the city for the youth. The youth agreed despite the fact that they smelled the deception…. Nevertheless, their youth learned at last that their elders thoughts is far from theirs. We conclude the following: – The Sheikhs of the group were not Jihadi . the youth were influenced by hearing about the Afghani Jihad. The youth of the young men along with insufficiency of their experience and rashness toward the matters without deliberation hindered their effectiveness.” AFGP-2002-800621
“Finally we need to establish a coordination and communications center to connect the youth in the different areas in and out of the country. It is important to strengthen the unity between the people. This is very important in Jihad.” AFGP-2002-800640
“Jihad radio stations operating in Yemen and Somalia will have a more powerful effect on them than nuclear bombs.” AFGP-2002-600053
There are lots of good quotes in the Harmony documents reference youth recruitment. I only selected these as a few examples. I find the time frame of these AQ statements interesting. I alluded in a previous post that AQ shifted their strategy based on the influence of Zawahiri and their failures in Somalia. As seen above, AQ shifted their focus in the early 1990’s to linking youth recruits together through coordination and communication centers. During the 90’s they established offices, today they accomplish this through the Internet. While the linking of youth recruitment globally expanded with the Internet, the effectiveness of these modern AQ “youth recruits” is questionable.
Ironically, al-Shabab means “The Youth”. AQ does discuss a group in Kismayo that was the “Islamic Youth Union” that originated from Muslim Brotherhood influence. It’s unclear from the documents where the name al-Shabab originates: the Muslim Brotherhood initiated youth group or AQ calling them the youth. Does anyone know?
It also seems like there would be an age limit on being a member of “The Youth/al-Shabab”. Kind of like Menudo, you can’t be older than a certain age. It would be weird to have a 50-year old leader of “The Youth”. However, the short lifespan of al-Shabab members probably makes this a non-issue.